Merops nubicuscarmine bee-eater(Also: northern carmine bee-eater)

Geographic Range

The northern carmine bee-eater, Merops nubicus, can be found in a narrow, well-defined range running along the 15°N latitude line across the width of Sub-Saharan Africa. They can be found in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda. During the summer breeding season (September-November), M. nubicus migrates to the northernmost latitudes of its range for nesting, then migrates to the southernmost latitudes of their range for wintering. In non-breeding months, the birds disperse throughout their entire narrow range. Their movements are erratic and usually non-predictable, as they tend to travel widely throughout their range. (Autin, 2019; Fry, 2010; Fry and Fry, 2010; McLaren, 2014; "Northern Carmine Bee-eater", 2016)


Northern carmine bee-eaters can be found in a wide range of African savannah habitats, including deserts, woodlands, and occasionally the northern edges of the rainforest zone, although avoiding densely wooded areas. They also frequent agricultural fields of open pasture, flood-plains, and marshes, and have occasionally been seen searching for prey over large bodies of water. Their range is heavily centered around a band of loess deposits stretching across the width of the continent as they nest along rivers in these sandy cliffs. (Autin, 2019; Borrow and Demey, 2013; Fry, 2010; Fry and Fry, 2010; Fry, et al., 2020; McLaren, 2014)

  • Range elevation
    1,000 (high) m

Physical Description

Northern carmine bee-eaters are very brightly colored and easily distinguishable birds. Adults are a rosy carmine-pink with a bright, light blue rump and upper- and under-tail coverts. The head is an iridescent green-blue with a black eyeline, throat, and beak. They have long, dark red, pointed wings with remiges tipped in black. Underwings are buff in color. This species is sexually monomorphic, yet males are fractionally larger. Juveniles are not as bright in color overall, being a light, pale, dusky pink with pale red-brown wings and the same blue markings as adults. They are the largest of the bee-eaters, with an average length of 240-270 mm, excluding their long tail streamers which can reach up to 120 mm in length. The wingspan is an average of 147 mm. Weights range from 34-59 g. They can be distinguished from the southern carmine bee-eater, M. nubicoides, once considered a subspecies of M. nubicus, in that their chin is blue, whereas the Southern species has a carmine chin. (Autin, 2019; Borrow and Demey, 2013; Fry, 2010; McLaren, 2014)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    34 to 59 g
    1.20 to 2.08 oz
  • Range length
    240 to 270 mm
    9.45 to 10.63 in
  • Average wingspan
    147 mm
    5.79 in


Northern carmine bee-eaters are typically monogamous, although they have been documented mating outside their pairings, given the chance. They form pairs yearly, often with a previous partner, although not always. Nest parasitism has been documented in females and it is suspected that they also utilize helpers at the nest to aid in excavation or chick-rearing, much like other bee-eater species, although this has not been confirmed. (Elston, 2007)

Northern carmine bee-eaters are cavity nesters, which makes it difficult to observe reproductive behavior in the wild. Therefore, there are few accounts of their reproductive behaviors in a natural setting and most data has been gathered in a captive setting. Research has indicated that their geographic breeding range is highly correlated with a band of desert loess running across the 15°N latitude of Africa. Like many other bee-eaters, M. nubicus nest in tall vertical cliffs of loess and silt along large riverbanks, excavating tunnels, 1-2 meters long, where they will lay their eggs and raise young. They tend to prefer nests that are higher on the cliff face compared to lower ones. No substrate is used to line the nest, therefore broken eggshells are a common occurrence. 48% of hatchling deaths are due to starvation. M. nubicus breeds annually, with nest excavations beginning in April and laying beginning in May. Two to five eggs are laid, usually two days apart, and chicks hatch after around 20 days, and fledge after 23-30 days of rearing, usually in July. (Alba, 2019; Elston, 2007; Ferrie, 2016; Fry, 2010; McLaren, 2014)

  • Breeding interval
    Once yearly
  • Breeding season
    April - July
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 5
  • Average time to hatching
    20 days
  • Range fledging age
    23 to 30 days
  • Range time to independence
    37 to 44 days

Female northern carmine bee-eaters do much of the chick incubation both pre- and post-hatching, while the males guard the nest. However, the males later do most of the chick care and provisioning after incubation. Though, during all stages, both males and females aid in chick care. Brooding stops 13-19 days before fledging and will decrease in frequency until that point. During the last 8-11 days of the nestling stage, the parents will bring the chick live insects as food in order to initiate self-feeding. After fledging, the parents will continue to feed their young for up to two weeks. (Alba, 2019; Elston, 2007; Ferrie, 2016)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Not much information has been gathered about the lifespan of northern carmine bee-eaters, although it is believed that their average lifespan is around 7 years. However, the oldest known captive bird lived to be 17 years old at the San Diego Zoo. (Autin, 2019)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    17 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    7 years


Merops nubicus is a diurnal, social, flocking bird that usually congregates in groups of ten or more during feeding though will often roost and breed in groups of hundreds or even thousands. During nesting season, they can become aggressive and territorial over mates and nesting tunnels and will exhibit aggressive displays towards each other and fight aerially. When emerging from nests in the morning, they preen together then form groups which they will feed with for the day. They typically react to others in their group without aggression, excluding when defending a mate or nest, when they will use their beaks as a weapon against an aggressor. They are very strong fliers and move acrobatically through the air. (Autin, 2019; Fry, 2010)

Home Range

Territories are limited to claimed tunnels during breeding season. (Elston, 2007)

Communication and Perception

Northern carmine bee-eaters communicate with other members of their flock both visually and vocally. Visual displays include defensive posturing towards other birds, where the bird hunches downward with its head low and chest feathers puffed, and begging behavior performed by juveniles and breeding females for food items from males. Vocalizations vary and have different meanings, such as alarm, flight, greeting, courtship and more. Most commonly, throaty, loud, and punctuated flight calls are given en masse. (Autin, 2019; Borrow and Demey, 2013; Fry, 2010)

Food Habits

Northern carmine bee-eaters are insectivorous and prefer to feed upon locusts and grasshoppers, though they are opportunistic feeders. They catch and feed upon insects midair, and therefore are attracted to fires, which stir insects up into the air and make them available for capture. They have also been commonly seen using other animals, such as larger birds or ungulates, as perches, utilizing the movement of the other animal to stir up insects from the ground as well. Inedible insect parts are regurgitated as pellets. Food items are manipulated from the perch. For example, bee stingers are removed through rubbing the abdomen on the perch or other insects are paralyzed through beating. (Autin, 2019; Borrow and Demey, 2013; "Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, Volume 89", 1969; Fry, 2010; Fry and Fry, 2010; Mikula and Tryjanowski, 2016)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects


Merops nubicus does not face significant predation, however monitor lizards have been observed raiding their nests for their eggs or chicks. Humans also sometimes hunt them for food or for feathers, or to protect their bee-hives. (Autin, 2019; "Northern Carmine Bee-eater", 2016)

Ecosystem Roles

Not much information is known on the ecological impact of the northern carmine bee-eater, however, it is likely that, due to their large numbers, they are an important contributor to keeping insect populations in check. This is especially true for their preferred food source, locusts, as they have been recorded following locust movements across their range. M. nubicus has also been known to exhibit a commensal relationship with other species of animals including, but not limited to, bustards, ostriches, cattle, zebras, camels, antelope, and oryx, by using them as perches to more efficiently forage. This relationship also likely benefits these birds through predator protection and energy conservation as well. It is not known whether this relationship benefits the host species, as there is no evidence that M. nubicus feeds off of ectoparasites on the body of the host. It is also plausible that the breeding sites of M. nubicus provide microhabitats for other species that can benefit from new habitat and food sources provided through tunnel excavation. (Autin, 2019; "Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, Volume 89", 1969; Fry and Fry, 2010; Mikula and Tryjanowski, 2016)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat
Species Used as Host
  • Large, ground-dwelling birds and large ungulates, including bustards, ostriches, cattle, zebra, camels, and oryx

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The northern carmine bee-eater exhibits no great economic importance for humans. However, they are used both locally and nationally as a source of food, and their feathers can be used in adornments. Internationally, they are distributed in the pet trade or as zoological specimens, as they are attractive additions to any collection. However, since they are not easily bred in captivity, they are not common in this trade. There are less than 200 registered individuals in zoos globally. (Autin, 2019; Ferrie, 2016; "Northern Carmine Bee-eater", 2016)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of M. nubicus on humans.

Conservation Status

While the northern carmine bee-eater is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, its populations are shown to be slightly decreasing. While the global population is currently unknown, they are common along rivers within their geographical range. There are currently no conservation or protective actions in place to preserve its populations. The cause of their decreasing population trend is likely due to factors such as over-hunting by humans for food, changing water levels due to the presence of hydro-electric dams, and riverbank collapse due to waves produced from speedboat traffic. ("Northern Carmine Bee-eater", 2016)


Skyler Mark (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec Lindsay (editor), Northern Michigan University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


1969. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, Volume 89. London: British Ornithologist's Club.

2016. "Northern Carmine Bee-eater" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed January 30, 2020 at

Alba, A. 2019. Use of Passive Radio Frequency Identification Technologies to Monitor Nest Usage in the Northern Carmine Bee-Eater (Merops n. Nubicus). Zoo Biology, vol. 38, no. 6: 498-507. Accessed January 30, 2020 at doi:10.1002/zoo.21514.

Autin, B. 2019. "Carmine Bee-Eaters (Merops Nubicus & M. Nubicoides) Fact Sheet: Summary" (On-line). San Diego Zoo Global Library. Accessed January 30, 2020 at //

Borrow, N., R. Demey. 2013. Field Guide to the Birds of Ghana. UK: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Burt, D. 2004. Plumage-Based Phylogenetic Analyses of the Merops Bee-Eaters. Ibis, vol. 146, no. 3: 481-492.

Elston, J. 2007. Use of Novel Nest Boxes by Carmine Bee-Eaters (Merops Nubicus) in Captivity. Zoo Biology, vol. 26, no. 1: 27-39. Accessed January 30, 2020 at doi:10.1002/zoo.20118.

Ferrie, G. 2016. Application of Video Recording Technology to Improve Husbandry and Reproduction in the Carmine Bee-Eater (Merops n. Nubicus). Zoo Biology, vol. 35, no. 1: 76-82.

Fry, H., P. Boesman, G. Kirwan. 2020. "Northern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus)" (On-line). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Accessed January 30, 2020 at

Fry, H. 2010. The Bee-Eaters. London: A & C Black.

Fry, H., K. Fry. 2010. Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters and Rollers. London: A & C Black.

McLaren, S. 2014. Loess and Bee-Eaters II: The ‘Loess’ of North Africa and the Nesting Behaviour of the Northern Carmine Bee-Eater (Merops Nubicus Gmelin 1788). Quaternary International, vol. 334–335: 112-118. Accessed January 30, 2020 at doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2014.01.040.

Mikula, P., P. Tryjanowski. 2016. Internet Searching of Bird-Bird Associations: A Case of Bee-Eaters Hitchhiking Large African Birds. Biodiversity Observations, vol. 80, no. 7: 1-6.